Today we took a bullet train to Shanghai -- top speed 240 kph, soon to be increased to 300 kph. And there's a maglev planned for Shanghai from the airport that will hit 460 kph. Everything's getting faster in China. And Shanghai is leading the change. Ten years ago, there were 200 buildings in the city with more than 25 floors. Now there are over 3000, of which around 80% are residential, but many are giant business skyscrapers. The architecture here is more stunning than anywhere I've been.
We got into Shanghai early, around 8:30am, so we headed straight to the Jade Buddha Temple, which houses two of five ancient Buddhas from Burma, the Sitting Buddha and the Reclining Buddha. Actually, the reclining one is a replacement of a smaller original. The sitting one is particularly beautiful, with translucent jade that looks oiled under the lights. No photographs allowed, so you'll have to find pictures on flickr....
From the beautiful temple, we went to Yu Gardens, located near a famous teahouse accessible by a zig-zag bridge designed to keep ghosts away. In the Chinese mythos, ghosts are impoverished creatures: they can't cross a raised threshold, and once they get going they have difficulty turning -- hence a zig-zag bridge is sufficient to prevent them from joining you for tea. As an aside, this is why if a highway turns, you'll never see an apartment building straight ahead, as the ghosts would fly straight through it.
Anyway, the gardens are beautiful. They include two "dragon walls," each with an intricately carved wooden dragon's head, and then an undulating body that spans 50-100 feet of white wall. If you look closely at the picture of the dragon, you'll see three claws, and you can notice that another couple of claws could easily be added. In fact, there were five originally, but the owner of the house discovered that the emperor was planning a surprise visit the next day. The owner knew that once the emperor saw an anatomically correct five-toed imperial dragon, he would know that the owner was making an architectural claim of imperial status, and he would promptly execute the owner. So the night before the emperor's arrival, the owner removed two claws and did some fancy fixup to obscure the change.
After leaving the gardens, we walked through an old pedestrian part of the city during the middle of the labor festival going on now. The crowds were out of control, and we had a difficult time staying together through this -- the pictures say it all.
From there, we went to the Shanghai museum, but due to the festival entrace was free, and the lines were maybe 45 minutes long. So instead, we just walked around the museum and the People's Square it abuts. We got some beautiful pictures here. The museum itself is wonderful. Square on the bottom, signifying earth, and round on the top, signifying heaven. We took some pictures on the grass, before being informed that it was illegal to walk there. Soon enough, a bunch of Chinese people joined us until the police came by and chased everybody off, amicably enough. The girls had a great time running around and playing in the dry fountain. And we got some nice pictures of people flying kites in the square, against the skyscrapers on the horizon.
Tired out, we headed to the Jianguo hotel to get checked in and say goodbye to our guide. That night, we managed a quick walk around the Bund, then back to the hotel to sleep. Tomorrow we have the day off and look forward to seeing some blogging friends.